Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Goals Related to General Education Curriculum

I hear lots of interesting things at IEP meetings, and recently I've heard several comments on the theme of including goals in an IEP to address general education standards.

In one meeting, a district resource teacher stated that "the law prohibited the IEP team from including goals in an IEP that were based on what would be taught within the general education curriculum."

Another teacher stated that goals related to general education were never appropriate for a student who is "severely disabled."

A district administrator stated that if all of the goals were based on regular education standards, rather than below grade level, this meant that the child should be exited from his IEP because clearly he didn't need special education.

Yet another claimed that "this district doesn't write IEP goals related to Science because no one has a Science disability."

At each of these meetings, I have patiently explained that the law requires IEP goals to address a child's unique needs in order to enable that child to make progress towards and participate in general education curriculum, and that if a child is expected to reach regular standards, but will require specialized instruction or related services to do so, then it would be appropriate to have a goal in that area. More and more, I am seeing IEP teams dismiss this request and insist that IEP goals cannot be written to address regular education standards. So, I've been compiling some information about this issue during these last few weeks of "IEP season" and I wanted to share that information with you.

What does IDEA say about this?

The IEP document must include a statement of measurable annual goals designed to meet the child's unique needs that result from the child's disability, to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general education curriculum. See 34 C.F.R. section 300.320(a)(2).

In Appendix A to Part 300, at Question 4, the Office of Education stated that a public agency is not required to include in an IEP annual goals that relate to areas of general curriculum if the child's disability does not affect the child's ability to be involved in and progress towards the general curriculum in that area.

Nowhere in the law is there a statement that a child's IEP cannot or should not include goals related to the general education curriculum. Further, there is no disclaimer stating that the requirement that goals be included to enable the child to be involved in and make progress in the general educaiton curriculum does not apply if the child is severely disabled.

When should the IEP address general education curriculum standards?

An IEP should include goals for areas related to the general education curriculum if the student requires special education or related services in order to make progress or participate in that specific area.

Remember that the IDEA defines special education as specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of the child. Specially designed instruction is defined as adapting as approrpiate to the needs of the child, the content, methodology or delivery of instruction to address the unique needs of the child that result from the child's disability and to ensure access of the child to the general curriculum so that the child can meet the educational standards within the jurisdiction of the public agency that apply to all children. 34 C.F.R. section 300.39(a)&(b).

Look at your state's or district's expected standards for each grade level. (Click here for California Content Standards). Each state has content standards for each grade level that define what students are expected to learn in each academic content area. The question is not whether the ultimate goal is for your child to reach the same level at the end of the school year as the other students; the question is whether your child's disability impacts his/her ability to reach that level. If it does, then it may be appropriate to include a goal for that skill. Look to current evaluation data to determine what areas of the curriculum may be affected by your child's disability.

Start addressing this in the Present Levels of Performance (PLOP), and use that information to determine if a goal is needed. The IEP's statement of PLOP must include the student's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance including how the student's disability affects the student's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum. 34 C.F.R. section 300.320(a)(1). For each area under PLOP, there should be a statement of how the student is currently performing as related to the grade level expectations based upon the content standards. This information can come from a variety of sources, including assessment data, classroom records, standardized testing, teacher input, progress reports, etc. Look at the PLOP to determine where there are areas where there is a "gap" between the grade level expectations and the child's functioning level.

What is the importance of including general education expectations in the IEP?

There is a preference in law and policy for including students with disabilities to the maximum extent possible in the regular education setting. Addressing general education curriculum expectations for students with disabilities, however, goes beyond the LRE debate. This issue is about the underlying goal of the IDEA to end the practice of "lowering expectations" for students with disabilities. Its about the ultimate goal of ensuring that students are educated in such a way that they are prepared for the world when they leave high school.

The IDEA "findings" state that "the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by... having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general curriculum to the maximum extent possible, in order to meet the developmental goals and the challenging expectations that have been established for all children and... be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives..." 20 U.S.C. section 1400(c).

No Child Left Behind reiterates this finding, noting that its purpose is to "ensure that all children have a fair, equal, and significant opportunity to obtain a high-quality education and reach, at a minimum, proficiency on challenging state academic achievement standards and state academic assessments." It goes on to indicate that this purpose can be achieved by "meeting the educational needs of low-achieving students, including students with disabilities." 20 U.S.C. section 6301.

Reflect on these considerations as you consider the appropriateness of IEP goals related to general education curriculum. A district team member once told me that the only way she would write an IEP goal related to a grade level math standard for a particular student was if the expectation was reduced from learning 30 numbers (as stated in the standard) to learning 15 numbers. When this kind of determination is made arbitrarily because of a misguided belief that grade level goals are not permissible, rather than based on any information about the child's actual levels of functioning, it is not conducive with meeting the purposes of the IDEA. Certainly, an arbitrary assumption that simply because a child is disabled, he could not possibly be expected to reach the grade level standard, is not "having high expectations for such children."

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember is the "I" in "IEP." The IEP must be individualized for the specific child based on his/her specific unique needs, strengths and levels of functioning, and considering information regarding how that child's specific disability affects his/her ability to progress in and participate in the general curriculum. The IEP must ensure that the child is able to make progress and receive a meaningful educational benefit. We should all be wary whenever we are told that "this district doesn't write those goals" or that inclusion of general education standards would "never be appropriate." Ultimately, whether the IEP should include a goal that is related to a general education content standard is an IEP team decision, and should be based on the specific scenario rather than any preconceived notions about the issue.

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